Gov. Ralph Northam Thursday announced amendments to Senate Bill 1716 and House Bill 2718, legislation that would provide $151 million in dedicated funding for the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan.
The amendments would ensure that the $2 billion program approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) in December 2018 is implemented, while also generating critical revenue for interstates across the commonwealth, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
The amendments created transportation funding mechanisms that bring Virginia’s truck registration fees, and diesel and road tax rates more in line with those of other states along I-81.
The amendments also include a 2.1 percent increase in the regional motor fuels tax along the I-81 corridor, ensuring all users contribute to funding I-81, according to the release.
Senate Bill 1716 was introduced last year by Senators Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, and House Bill 2718 was introduced by Delegates Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and Terry Austin, R-Botetourt.
Obenshain said improving the safety on I-81 has been a priority of his for a long time and while he appreciated the governor’s efforts and negotiations, which he was not a part of, he could not support the amendments.
“No way I could support a gas tax on residents. It’s overwhelming for Virginia residents whether they drive I-81 or not,” Obenshain said. “It is not reflective of who uses I-81.”
A vote on the amendments will occur Wednesday, Obenshain said.
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, also weighed in on Thursday’s announcement.
"I cannot support a proposal that will disproportionately impact the people and businesses I represent rather than the out-of-state truck and vehicular traffic that dominates the interstate every day. This is especially true given the extremely limited safety improvements that VDOT has planned for Shenandoah County, even under this plan," Gilbert wrote in a emailed prepared statement.
Other interstates approved for funding include $40 million for I-95, $28 million for I-64, $20 million for the Northern Virginia Transporation Authority, and $43 million for investment in other interstates as prioritized by the CTB, according to the statement.
Northam stated in the news release: "This year I worked closely with Democratic and Republican legislators to reach a long-term agreement that would address the critical safety and reliability issues along the I-81 corridor and make historic investments in the economic competitiveness of this vital region of the commonwealth.
"We can't wait another year to find a solution - I am pleased to offer amendments that will establish dedicated funding sources to support improvements that will lead to a major reduction in crashes and travel delays."
A survey by the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance in December found that area residents were looking for immediate action on the safety and reliability issues along the corridor. The Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan identified top problem areas and prioritized potential solutions based on public input. It can be found at www.va81corridor.org.